A few weeks ago I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Thousands cross the iconic bridge daily. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. Only it was because I have a big time fear of heights.
Heights freak me out. Actually lots of things freak me out. I’m an over-achiever in overthinking. I’m fine when things just happen, but if I have time to think about things happening, specifically what might happen, not so much.
Life is unpredictable and bad stuff happens ALL the time. Staying safe has always kind of been my thing. But much has changed over the last few years. I’m trying to do less thinking and more doing, which brings me back to crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
In early August I attended a conference at Pier 17 in lower Manhattan. Many of the old waterfront piers, once an entry point for immigrants and a hub for shipping, have been transformed into parks with outdoor viewing areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and yes, the Brooklyn Bridge.
Even though it was steamy hot and the air as dense as bath water, I spent breaks between conference sessions outside. I’ve always been a sucker for New York. As a kid, it was my all or nothing, happily-ever-after and I never wanted much else. The city still gives me jitters but now also some ‘what ifs’ and regrets.
Pier 17 is just south of the bridge so close that you can watch as waves of people move fluidly across it. “Maybe I should cross the bridge.”
This thought was followed almost immediately by louder more intrusive thoughts listing all the reasons I shouldn’t. I might panic, get sunburned, have a heat stroke or a real stroke or actually fall off the bridge because I’m clumsy that way.
But each time I went outside and looked up at the sea of bodies flowing across the bridge, the urge grew stronger. Until the voice telling me to do it was as loud and persistent as the one telling me not to do it. What if I get half way across and turn back; I won’t. What if there’s a natural disaster or a terrorist attack; there won’t be. What if I’m afraid, sick, panicked, what if I fall – do it anyway.
The Brooklyn Bridge is over a mile long. I didn’t Google the height of the bridge or the depth of the river because truthfully I didn’t want to know. These details would have set my overthinking into overdrive – all I really needed to know was how long it would take me. The general consensus (after reading multiple websites) was about forty minutes with moderate afternoon crowds.
Forty minutes I could handle, maybe.
I skipped the last session of the conference and took the train from City Hall to High Street in Brooklyn. So preoccupied with crossing the bridge that I didn’t have time to stress out about being in a tunnel under the East River.
Climbing the stairs to the bridge felt like being underwater too long. It was not fun. But once I came up for air (aka stepped out onto the walkway), the vastness of the bridge and the moment pushed me forward. The suspended steel cables, massive towers, six lanes of traffic and the neon peaks and valleys of Manhattan in the distance. Add bikers, baby strollers, tourists with cameras, vendors selling bottled water and tchotchkes, and teens stretched over the railing wearing sunscreen (hopefully) and little else.
I started walking.
It was sweltering hot and my glasses kept sliding off my face. But otherwise I felt OK, better than OK – almost normal, totally present in the brightness of it all (even without my glasses). Perspective changes everything. Thinking about doing something is always way more scary than actually doing it.
At the center of the bridge I paused and called my husband, daughter, and wished I could call my father. I wanted to tell someone, anyone, where I was and what I was doing – to make it real, I guess. But no one answered and now I’m glad they didn’t because this experience was mine. Sometimes the most terrifying, painful and beautiful things in life we face alone and we shouldn’t need validation from others.
I kept walking. Aware only of how much I have lost because I hesitated. How many things I have wanted to try, but didn’t because I was afraid or even worse, waiting for someone else’s approval. No more hesitating. Being afraid is OK, but do it anyway.
I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge alone, but not really alone, and it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was exhilarating, radiant, and glorious and I was kind of sad when it was over.
Think less, do more. Find the things you love and also fear and do more of both. Life is not about being perfect it’s about being authentic and brave.
We will be back with our regularly scheduled Ruby cuteness next week.